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During the investigation, agency lawyers were forced to turn over long lists of documents, including classified cables from around the world. Former CIA Director Porter Goss was summoned before a grand jury, as were the agency’s former top lawyer, John Rizzo, and its current station chief in London.

Despite standing orders from the Bush White House not to destroy the tapes without checking with administration officials, momentum for their destruction grew in late 2005 as the CIA Thailand station chief, Mike Winograd, prepared to retire, the current and former U.S. officials have said.

Mr. Winograd had the tapes in his safe and believed they should be destroyed, officials said.

On Nov. 4, 2005, as the CIA scrambled to quell a controversy from a Washington Post story revealing the existence of secret CIA prisons overseas, Mr. Rodriguez called two CIA lawyers. He asked Steven Hermes, his lawyer in the clandestine service, whether he had the authority to order the tapes destroyed. Mr. Hermes said Mr. Rodriguez did, according to documents and interviews.

Then Mr. Rodriguez asked Robert Eatinger, the top lawyer in the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, whether there was any legal requirement that the tapes be kept. Mr. Eatinger said no.

Relying on the advice, Mr. Rodriguez told Mr. Winograd to write an official request to destroy the videos. On Nov. 5, 2005, the request came in. Its justification: The inspector general had completed its investigation and CIA lawyer John L. McPherson had verified that the cables accurately summarized the tapes.